Op-Ed: What New Census Data Portend About Who's In, Who's Out of SB Board of Supervisors Districts
By Lanny Ebenstein
The long-standing battle over locating UCSB and Isla Vista in Santa Barbara County's Board of Supervisors Third District is likely to end in 2022, when the new, independent, 11-member redistricting commission places UCSB and Isla Vista--of necessity--in the Second District.
Simply put, there are not enough other residents on the south coast to enable these coastal areas to remain in the Third District any longer.
Although not all census data have been released yet, enough are available to determine the north county-south county split for the next decade. School district data have already been released and, because all of the county is located in a school district, it is possible now to forecast the north-south division accurately.
What census shows. Pursuant to the 2020 census:
The population in north county school districts (including Santa Maria, Lompoc, Guadalupe, Gaviota, and Cuyama) is 240,015.
The population in south county school districts (including Carpinteria, Santa Barbara, and Goleta) is 208,214.
This is a ratio of 2.68 north county supervisors to 2.32 south county supervisors.
Because there is not enough population on the south coast for even 2 and 1/3 supervisors, the most reasonable plan for supervisorial districts starting in 2022 would be two north county districts (4th and 5th), two south county districts (1st and 2nd), and a central, 3rd district that is 2/3 north county and 1/3 south county.
In this scenario, it's not possible to place Ellwood, Isla Vista, and UCSB in the Third District, where they currently lie, even if all of Goleta north of Highway 101 is placed nto the Second District -- because Ellwood, Isla Vista, and UCSB's population together is about .45 percent of a supervisorial district.
The bottom line is that the south coast is about 12,000 residents short of retaining Ellwood, Isla Vista, and UCSB in a Third District that otherwise would be comprised of north county areas.
The part of Cuyama that is in the First District only has a population of about 1,000. Even other areas of "greater" Cuyama could add only about another 1,000 residents, at most, to the First District. That would still mean a gap of 10,000 residents on the south coast, if Ellwood, Isla Vista, and UCSB are retained in the Third.
The politics of redistricting. I have always felt that Isla Vista and UCSB, by being placed in the Third District for purely political purposes, are shortchanged; UCSB and Isla Vista are integrally part of the south coast.
The most feasible redistricting plan starting in 2022 would be to place UCSB and Isla Vista in the Second District, represented by Supervisor Gregg Hart, and almost all of the city of Goleta (32 percent of a supervisorial district) in the Third District, represented by fellow liberal Joan Hartmann..
This would result in five districts of equal population -- and respect the community identities of UCSB-Isla Vista and Goleta, a key measure of equitable reapportionment.
In addition, a Second District including both SBCC and UCSB would provide a supervisorial district with both of the leading institutions of higher education in the county, another community identity factor.
Goleta, to be sure, is also part of the south coast. But it is closer--economically, socially, and geographically—to the Santa Ynez Valley than are UCSB and Isla Vista.
Existing data suggest that almost 90 percent of Goleta could be placed in the Third District if IV and UCSB are located in the Second – to the benefit of Goleta.
The western part of Goleta, including Ellwood and some of El Encanto Heights, already is in the Third District, and the city’s political clout is now diminished by being largely divided between the Second and Third. Under this 2022 redistricting scenario, Goleta would become the largest single city by far in the Third and represent approximately one-third of the district.
The balance of power. It is unlikely a redistricting along these lines would alter the current political balance on the Board of Supervisors.
Much like other areas in California, the Santa Ynez Valley has shifted politically. The fundamental political divide in Santa Barbara County is not now at the Gaviota Pass, but between the current Fourth and Fifth supervisorial districts and the rest of the county.
In her 2020 reelection, Supervisor Hartmann received 54.59 percent of the vote in a four-way race including Isla Vista resident Jess Parfrey, who received 5.52 percent – so the total vote for candidates on the left was 60.11 percent.
Comparing their relative votes as a one-to-one matchup, conservative Bruce Porter, a strong candidate, barely beat Hartmann in the north county portion of the Third, 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent. But Hartmann decimated Porter on the south coast, 65.9 percent to 34.1 percent. Hartmann received 73.3 percent of the vote, compared to Porter, in the city of Goleta.
So the notion that shifting Goleta into the Third District would change the balance of power on the Board of Supervisors is mistaken.
Bottom line. Continued gerrymandering of supervisorial lines in ways that do not respect community identity should be discontinued by the new county commission on redistricting. UCSB and Isla Vista should be located in the Second District and the city of Goleta in the Third.
The numbers will require this placement.
Lanny Ebenstein, the author of 10 books on economic and political thought, received his PhD from the London School of Economics.
(The next meeting of the Citizen’s Independent Redistricting Commission for the county is scheduled for October 6 at 6:00 p.m., in person or by zoom. The commission is expected to complete its recommendations on December 8).
Image: County map shows current Board of Supervisors districts; Lanny Ebenstein.